The Secrets of the Huon Wren
by Claire Van Ryn
(Reviewed by Kate Jackson @kate_thebooklover)
I was absolutely delighted to read an advanced copy of Claire van Ryn’s debut novel The Secrets of the Huon Wren published by Penguin Random House Australia on June 27.
This story had me captivated as it circles around two women and the connection that they build after a chance meeting.
Set in Tasmania, the story is written in dual timelines. The present day, 2019, is set in Launceston and in 1953 in Caveside, at the base of the majestic mountains of the Great Western Tiers.
We begin the story in the present day where we are introduced to Allira Ambrose who is a journalist for a local magazine, and can I just say when I first read her full name I thought, what a great name for a character, Allira Ambrose! It had such a good ring to it and is so memorable, just like her character will be for the reader long after the last page of this book is turned.
It’s through a twist of fate that we meet Nora at the nursing home in the present day. Allira has arrived there to interview another resident but when that isn’t possible, Sally, the homes manager, tells Allira of Nora, a dementia patient who sits cradling a doll so lovingly in her arms.
Having lost my own grandmother to dementia, the first few chapters really tugged at my heart strings and I felt a huge mix of emotions.
The chapters then alternate from the past to the present, with flashbacks to 1953 when Nora is a 15-year-old, free-spirited young lady who doesn’t want to conform to her mother’s belief that her calling in life is to be that of a housewife and mother. Nora’s world is turned upside down when a young Polish-German migrant makes a wood delivery to Nora’s father who is the local undertaker. The titbits the author provides about his profession I found utterly fascinating.
As the story progressed, I couldn’t help but enjoy the connection that builds between the two women. It is so heart-warming, and I found their relationship to be an interesting one. They are unable to connect simply by words, but share a similar life-changing experience that bonded them.
As Allira continues to visit Nora, she knows there is a story to be told about this woman and the carved Huon wren in her room and I enjoyed how the secret unfolded and the past came crashing into the present.
It was a bittersweet ending, with a few soggy tissues tucked into my sleeve as I finished the final chapters.
I enjoyed the array of characters within the story; Rae, Allira’s best friend, Her Husband Hamish (picture a hot, hunky paramedic) and Nora’s father won my heart. There was also an interesting dynamic with mother-daughter relationships experienced by both the main characters.
This book covers some sensitive topics that are central to the story, but I found the author approached them delicately and with such care that you can’t help but feel empathy for the characters involved.
There is so much to like and enjoy about this book, I found it captivating and loved the instant connection I had with the story and setting. It was a brilliant debut novel, and I am excited to read more of what Claire van Ryn has to offer in the future.